Istanbul, the Turkish capital, is one of the cities that treasures the largest and most splendid historical and artistic heritage in the world. And within all this monumental complex there is a building that stands out especially. We are talking about Santa Sofía or Aya Sofia, a building that was Christian, later a mosque and, since 1935, has been a museum. In short, now one of the absolutely essential attractions during a visit to Istanbul.
Hagia Sophia, the great legacy of Byzantium
Istanbul has not always been called that. It was also known as Constantinople and before that as Byzantium. And precisely to that period of its history belongs Hagia Sophia. It was built during the mandate of Emperor Justinian, between the years 532 and 537, becoming the great architectural jewel of Byzantine art. Above all because of the ingenious system of vaults, domes and semi-domes that organize the entire roof of the temple.
But if its architecture is admirable, the same happens with the mosaics that cover a large part of its walls. Mosaics are emblematic of Byzantine art. They appear here, but also in churches far away, such as the various historic temples in the Italian city of Ravenna.
In the great temple of Istanbul We are facing a set of mosaics made with colored stones (tiles), vitreous paste and gold sheets. Elements that form the most animated scenes and whose arguments are based on biblical passages, as well as an image of Emperor Constantine and his wife.
“Depending on the weather, Istanbul becomes sometimes oil, sometimes watercolor, sometimes pastel, sometimes charcoal.”
– Nazim Hikmet –
The Hagia Sophia Mosque
We have already said that Hagia Sophia was born as a Christian temple and we have also said that Istanbul had different names. Well, with the establishment of the Ottoman Empire and the introduction of the Muslim religion, the city was renamed Constantinople. Hagia Sophia then became an Islamic temple, that is, a mosque. Hence the large panels with Arabic characters seen inside and the construction of four external minarets.
However, today it no longer functions as a mosque, which does not mean that it is not a place of strong spiritual charge. In fact, many citizens come to this place to pray in a private and intimate way. If you visit Hagia Sophia, you will see that respect is requested in the forms, clothing and comments to visitors, so as not to disturb all those people.
The interest of Hagia Sophia
To enter Hagia Sophia nowadays it is necessary to pay, since it is considered a museum and a tourist attraction. But it is an entry well worth it. We go into a building that is at the base of western architectureand especially from the East.
For a start, its great dome, with a diameter of more than 30 meters, is one of the great domes in history. Also one of the oldest, only surpassed in the rank of antiquity by the Pantheon of Agrippa in Rome. Although the construction system is very different and peculiar, a staggered system that is repeated in the great mosques of the country and especially in Istanbul in the Suleimaniye or the charming Blue Mosque.